Hyperbaric oxygen treatment and its use to treat Long Covid
How does hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) work?
The human body is highly energetic and depends on a constant flow of oxygen to help generate enough cellular energy (called ATP)for all its metabolic needs. In essence, ATP (Adenosine triphosphate) is the body’s currency for energy and the more the body has, then the more it can ‘spend’ and oxygen has a direct relationship to the amount of cellular ATP produced.
Simply put, HBOT provides the body with an extra large dose of oxygen, that then has the ability to facilitate extra ENERGY to be manufactured within all our metabolically-active cells and tissue inside the body.
MORE OXYGEN = MORE ENERGY
MORE ENERGY = FASTER HEALING
The reason for you receiving a larger dose of oxygen when receiving HBOT is due to the hyperbaric oxygen chamber having both increased pressure, as well as higher oxygen concentration than what we receive in ambient air intake (21%).
The combination of these two components, depending on the actual pressure and % of oxygen in the air, creates a situation whereby you can obtain between 30-100% more oxygen in your bloodstream than if you were walking around breathing in normally.
The body then takes this additional oxygen putting it to good use helping it to heal / recover faster than it could have done previously with the limited amount of oxygen that you can take in through normal respiration.
How does Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy help the body?
The physiological benefits of HBOT have been shown to help the following:
1. Improve energy levels and tissue function
In damaged tissue the extra amount of oxygen may help to provide the critical extra energy needed for both tissue repair and function
In addition, long-term benefits may occur as the body is able to increase the number of sites where ATP is produced. These areas inside the cells are called mitochondria and the addition of HBOT has been shown to increase mitochondrial biogenesis and further the production of cells to generate ATP.
2. Regenerate tissue
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is well known in hospitals and wound care centres for skin treatment like skin collagen and tissue regeneration. The two major physiological effects of HBOT to provide this are:
Fibroblast activation: Fibroblasts are the cells that are responsible for laying down collagen production. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy stimulates fibroblast activation and therefore plays a critical role in the treatment of non-healing wounds.
Stem cell mobilization: stem cell therapy has been the focus of major research and funding for regenerative medicine. HBOT is a powerful way to stimulate the bone marrow to produce more stem cells. These stem cells then circulate in the bloodstream to get to places of need in the body to improve healing.
3. Reduce inflammation Additional oxygen can help both the reduction of swelling and inflammation.
Swelling: Typically following acute (or even recent) tissue injuries, the blood vessels get ‘leaky’ so that the white blood cells can pass through to help fight infection and clean up the debris left from the injury. At the same time the fluid (plasma) in the blood also makes its way into the tissue and causes swelling that impedes the oxygen getting to the damaged region. With the addition of HBOT, the oxygen levels are so high, that the body constricts the blood vessels going to the damaged region, restricting the fluid entering the area, thereby reducing the swelling, while kick-starting the repair of tissue through the oxygen rich plasma.
Inflammation: One of the key beneficial effects noted from HBOT has been the profound reduction in inflammation and their associated markers (including TNF-alfa, Interleukin-1 and many more) inside the body. The levels of these inflammatory markers have been linked to the progressions, severity, and control of many very serious inflammatory-related conditions and this has spearheaded the growth in the pharmaceutical industry to help develop agents that can lower these markers. In addition, HBOT has been shown to increase Interleukin-10 (a very strong anti-inflammatory protein) which is clinically important particularly in the brain (neuroinflammation).
4. Reduce pain
Numerous studies have clearly demonstrated a dramatic reduction in pain, following hyperbaric procedures. This has been supported by patients, world-wide, reporting strong and similar pain-relief following HBOT. The majority of evidence points to the anti-inflammatory effects being the key mechanism for this therapeutic effect.
5. Improve and enhance immune functioning
The immune system is composed of white blood cells (WBCs). These cells have a variety of essential roles inside the body, one of which is to fight infections. They do this through an oxygen-dependent system called phagocytosis. This is a process whereby WBC’s engulf and then kill the invading organisms. The killing effect is achieved through converting oxygen into dangerous compounds called oxy-radicals. HBOT has been shown to enhance phagocytosis, helping the body to kill and ward-off infection.
HBOT also aids in a process called apoptosis (or programmed cell death). This is where more susceptible cells (like older and poor functioning immune cells or cancer cells) basically forced to ‘commit suicide’ and make way for newer cells. This also has been shown to be an important factor in resolving inflammation and chronic wounds.
High enough oxygen dosages (as typically produced in hyperbaric oxygen chambers) can produce very high amounts of oxygen radicals. These compounds (on their own) can have a direct killing effect on microorganisms, particularly anaerobic bacteria (bacteria that can’t live in the presence of oxygen).
What long Covid symptoms are most common in people?
The following symptoms are what people are mostly finding with long covid, it may be that some people suffer with just one or two of the following symptoms, however in extreme cases we have seen some patients come through who are experiencing multiple symptoms from below.
extreme tiredness (fatigue)
shortness of breath
memory and concentration (brain fog)
pins and needles
depression and anxiety
a high temperature, cough, headache, sore throat, changes to sense smell and taste
How does Hyperbaric oxygen therapy help patients with long covid?
Covid-19 can lead to hypoxemia as a result of damage done to the lungs through inflammatory responses by the viral infection in the respiratory system.
HBOT helps to reduce any leftover inflammation caused by Covid-19, repair any damaged cells starved of oxygen during illness, improve energy levels and reduce pain in the body from inflammation. It may also be that small traces of the covid virus are left in the body and these can be killed off by improved immune functioning that HBOT can deliver.
Patients have seen improvements from as little as one session in a hyperbaric chamber (60 mins at 1.3ata) with long term recovery being apparent in most trialists between 5-20 sessions.